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707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat? Hell yes!

I'll cut to the chase and get right to the bit that you came here for: the engine. The SRT Hellcat is powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V-8 that outputs a stated 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque and can be best described, in a word, as monstrous. It is loud, it is angry, and it is extremely powerful.

I can admit that I was a bit intimidated by the idea of driving the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat on public roads. Hell, I was downright scared of what could happen with 700-plus horsepower available at the stab of the accelerator pedal.

The noise this thing makes is equally monstrous. At startup, the Hellcat quite literally roars to life, startling small children and eliciting hard looks from the strait-laced passersby. The engine settles then into a pronounced, but comfortable burble that fills the cabin even at moderate speeds. I found myself wondering why Dodge even bothered to put a stereo in this car when you can barely hear it at 35 mph.

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An intake hidden within the Hellcat's hollow driving light pulls cool, dense air into the supercharged engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

With so much torque on demand, the Hellcat could probably make do with a single speed transmission, but our example was equipped with an 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic gearbox with a manual shifting mode and paddle shifters. A six-speed Tremec manual transmission is available, but I think that the automatic is a good fit for the Challenger's muscle car vibe.

When I say that the power delivery is responsive, I mean instantaneous. Stab the pedal and the engine springs to life with next to no lag. The V-8 burble becomes again a roar, now joined by the whine of the supercharger as it crams air into the cylinders for combustion. The noise is exhilarating. The acceleration is slightly less immediate thanks in part to the Hellcat's uncanny ability to spin its tires for the first few ticks of the stopwatch before hooking up and taking off like a rocket.

Zero to 60 mph happens in a launch-control-assisted 3.5 seconds and the standing quarter mile in 11.2 seconds. Keep your right foot planted on a stretch long enough to reach the Hellcat's top speed of 199 mph. Dodge says that the Hellcat is the fastest, most powerful muscle car ever and those numbers seem to back it up.

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The SRT pages portion of the Uconnect interface enables the driver to select between Street, Sport, and Track settings for the Hellcat's systems. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Or you can just disable the traction and launch control and convert the solid rubber of the rear tires into acrid white clouds of smoke. The Hellcat is a burnout machine with an appetite for eating rubber and tread. The cat is also thirsty for fuel with EPA estimates of 13 city, 22 highway, 16 combined mpg. I averaged 11.9 mpg over my long weekend.

The Challenger's isn't a big dumb brute, it's also packed full of intelligence and a bit of creature comforts. For starters, the driver can tweak the Hellcat's performance via four SRT drive modes that are all accessible via its standard Uconnect touchscreen interface. These modes allow the driver to quickly toggle the performance of the transmission (and paddle shifters, if equipped), traction control system, adjustable suspension and engine horsepower among Street, Sport and Track settings -- going from comfortable to hardcore with each step.

There's also a fourth "Custom" setting -- although all of the modes are customizable -- so if you don't want paddle shifters active when on the street or you want a docile engine with a firm suspension, you can tweak that. Finally, there's a Valet setting that really tones down the performance to prevent unauthorized hooning of your Hellcat while you're enjoying your dinner.

You may have noticed that I mentioned that the Hellcat features a very un-muscle-car-like adaptive suspension. On the Street setting, the ride is still firm, but comfortable over bumps, highway joints and cracked asphalt. Bumping up to Sport or Track progressively stiffens the ride, allowing less roll in the corners, and allowing a bit more communication from the suspension into the cabin.

I noticed that the suspension squeaks a bit on cold mornings -- I'm not sure if it's the stiffer sway bars or bushings -- but you probably won't hear any of that over the engine.

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I certainly didn't expect this brute of a muscle car to feature an electronically adjustable suspension. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Will it dance like a Camaro ZL1? Nope, but the Hellcat blew away my expectations of its cornering ability. Between the massive Brembo brakes' ability to shave speed as fast as you can pour it on and the V-8's ability to practically steer the car into slight (or exaggerated) oversteer with a tickle of the accelerator pedal, the Hellcat will have you grinning in the corners as well as the straights. Pair that with the Challenger's optional sticky, Pirelli P Zero tires and you've got a muscle car that tackles bends like a sports car.

That said, carry too much speed into a bend and the heavy Challenger chassis' tendency toward pushing understeer will present itself.

Adding to the theatrics, the Hellcat arrives with two keys: one black and one red. The black key limits the Hemi's output to 500 horsepower; more than enough power for daily driving and still probably too much for lending to a relative. Starting the car with the red key in your pocket unlocks the maximum 707 horsepower and the vehicle's full potential.

This is your first hint at the dual nature of the Hellcat. The coupe is surprisingly quiet at highway speeds; with a maximum of 650 pound-feet of torque available, the engine is practically idling at reasonable highway speeds. I mentioned earlier that the adjustable suspension is also surprisingly comfortable over bumps and around town. And the throttle is surprisingly easy to coax into acceleration so smooth that your passengers may not even realize that they're sitting in the belly of the beast.

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The Hellcat comes with two key fobs: a black key that limits performance and a red fob that unlocks the full 707 horsepower. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

As the top-tier model, the Hellcat comes pretty close to fully loaded, boasting the same great tech and creature comforts that I saw on the 2015 Challenger Scat Pack , so it's comfortable enough to be a daily driver. But if your fuel economy is anything like mine, you can also expect that the Hellcat to have fairly high operating costs as well.

Imagine what it'd be like to shake hands with Superman. You just know he can bend steel with those mitts -- crush coal into diamonds -- but his handshake is firm, comfortable and doesn't break every bone in your hand. There's an immense power, but also a practiced control that makes it accessible to mere mortals. That's what it's like rumbling through traffic and picking up groceries in the SRT Hellcat. Also like Supes, when the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat cuts loose, it can move worlds.

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The Hellcat is a modern mega muscle car and a future collectible. There's nothing like it on the road. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

With an MSRP that starts at $59,995 -- which includes a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax -- the Hellcat isn't just the most powerful Challenger that money can buy, it's also the most expensive. Our example also featured the optional 8-speed automatic transmission ($1,995), premium leather seats ($1,795), an upgrade to the stickier tires ($395), and a navigation upgrade for its standard 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system ($695). Add destination charges to bring you to our as tested price of $65,870.

That's pretty expensive for a Dodge, but the price tag comes with the promise of owning one of the meanest modern machines on the road today and a future classic. There simply isn't anything like the Hellcat.

 

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